A Media Code of Conduct for Coverage of Elections in Guyana in 2001. Agreed to on 9 October 2000 at the ‘Media Code of Conduct Roundtable’ at Le Meridien Pegasus, Old Seawall Road, Georgetown.
Given the desirability for a fair, peaceful and well-regulated election and the avoidance of the aggravation of ethnic tension and unnecessary political discord,
We agree and accept that a Code of Conduct for the media – taken to mean newspapers and radio and television stations – generally respected and observed, will contribute to the holding of a free and fair election.
We agree to accept, to subscribe to, and, to the very best of our ability, to comply with this Code of Conduct and to take all reasonable steps to ensure its observance.
We accept and subscribe to this Code of Conduct on the clear and unqualified understanding that the government or any of its agencies and the Elections Commission, will not impose nor seek to impose any prior restraint or censorship on any publication by the media.
II. THE CODE OF CONDUCT
1. The media in their coverage and reporting of the elections during the period of campaigning agree:
i. to refrain from the publishing or broadcasting of any matter with the potential for, or likely to promote or incite racial hatred, bias or contempt or any matter with the potential for, or likely to, promote or cause public disorder, pose or become a threat to the security of the nation;
ii. to refrain from ridiculing, stigmatising or demonising people on the basis of gender, race, class, ethnicity, language, sexual orientation and physical or mental ability;
iii. to hold themselves independent and free of any, or all, government and political opposition control and direction;
iv. to hold themselves independent and free of any, or all, control and direction from any of the political parties officially registered to contest the elections;
v. to hold themselves free of any, or all, control and direction from any individual, group, or organisation representing or promoting the special interests of any of the political parties officially registered to contest the elections.
2. The media in the exercise of their constitutional right of free expression, and in recognition of their consequential social responsibility to the society which they serve, will at all times endeavour to:
i. provide a truthful, comprehensive, accurate, balanced and fair account of events in a context which gives them meaning;
ii. serve as a forum for the exchange of public comment, opinion, discussion and criticism in a balanced and reasonable manner;
iii. offer an accurate picture of the constituent groups, organisations and parties contesting the elections and of the society in general;
iv. present and clarify, as far as possible, the goals and values of the constituent groups, organisations and parties contesting the elections and of the society in general.
3. The Media, in accepting the principle of “fair and balanced” reporting, recognise that:
i. No story is fair if it omits facts of major importance or significance and is therefore incomplete;
ii. No story is fair if it includes essentially irrelevant information, rumour or unsubstantiated statements at the expense of significant facts;
iii. No story is fair if it consciously or unconsciously misleads or even deceives the reader, listener or viewer.
4. The media, in accepting the principle of “accuracy and balance” in reporting, particularly during periods of campaigning for elections, acknowledge that these two main characteristics, accuracy and balance, seek to distinguish good journalism from bad, and journalism from propaganda. From this perspective, we accept that:
Accuracy requires the verification (to the fullest extent possible) and presentation of all facts that are pertinent and necessary to understand a particular event or issue, even if some of the facts conflict with a journalist’s, or a broadcaster’s particular beliefs and feelings;
Balance, or impartiality, requires the presentation of all the main points of view or interpretations of an event or an issue, regardless of whether the journalist, reporter, broadcaster, editor or the audience agrees with these views.
5. The media further acknowledge that both these ingredients – accuracy and balance – are necessary for citizens to gain a full and realistic picture of the issues during election campaigns, as well as of the world around them. Democracy, which requires the active participation of informed citizens, depends on journalists and broadcasters to keep citizens informed about major issues.
6. The media accept that omitting relevant facts and points of view from the reporting of major issues of public interest inevitably distorts the view of reality a journalist, reporter or broadcaster presents and so misleads and misinforms the public.
7. The media acknowledge that the deliberate distortion of reality so as to lead the public to a particular understanding of events and issues, without regard for reality can poison the processes of democracy.
8. The media support the establishing of an independent Elections Media Monitoring and Refereeing Panel with the requisite resources empowered to monitor and receive complaints and pronounce on the performance of the media. The media agree to publish the findings of the panel on all complaints received by it.
(These Guidelines were examined on 1st November 2000 at the “Draft Guidelines: Media Code of Conduct Roundtable” at Le Meridien), Pegasus, Old Seawall Road, Georgetown. This Roundtable was attended by [34 names follow]).
1. “Inciting Racial Hatred and Promoting Public Disorder.”
Media organisations may not censor, or edit any material or materials submitted by political parties, or their agents, for either free, or paid for, publication in newspapers or broadcast on radio or television stations. However, media organisations observing the law and exercising editorial judgment in favour of good taste and a respect for public safety and decency, should refuse any material submitted by political parties, or their agents, likely to be hateful, ethnically offensive, to promote public disorder or threaten the security of the State.
In all cases of such refusal, the concerned political party must be immediately informed of the reasons for rejection, and, assuming that time permits, the concerned party, or its agent, must be given the opportunity to modify the rejected material in order to conform to acceptable legal, moral and other standards.
The media shall not publish or broadcast any report, which, by its content, carries a clear risk of inciting ethnic hatred or political disorder without having the accuracy and authenticity of the report confirmed by at least 2 (two) independent sources.
2. “Free space and time for political parties AFTER Nomination Day.”
In the period after Nomination Day, and in the interest of even-handed treatment for all political parties, the media agree to make available an equal amount of free space and time for all political parties that have met the legal criteria for contesting the election.
Print and broadcast media will make available, free of charge, their technical facilities such as layout and printing, basic studio, audio and video recordings for the production and presentation of articles and programmes, but not including the provision of editing, talent, or outside production or broadcast facilities, or reproduction and distribution for use by any other media organisation.
3. “Equal Access to Paid Political Advertising.”
Media organisations acknowledge their obligation to provide equal access and opportunity to all political parties without discrimination, to purchase space in newspapers and prime time on radio and television stations to promote their respective views during the period of electioneering.
In this regard, the media will make available to contesting political parties full information about space and time availability for advertising and their published advertising rates to be available to all public relations firms, advertising agencies and the proposed Independent Elections Media Monitoring and Refereeing Panel to be established for the purpose of monitoring adherence to the Code of Conduct and these Guidelines.
4. “News Reports and Current Affairs programmes.”
All media organisations agree that news reports and current affairs programmes may, at any time, subject to the media Code of Conduct, deal with any issue, cause, organisation or individual. However, given the large number of contesting parties, coverage of election campaign events and other related issues will be limited by the capacity of media organisations to assign staff for these activities. The allocation of free and paid-for time and space for political parties to present their views in the media is a response to this constraint.
Editorial judgments therefore continue to rest solely with the respective organisations. These judgments aim to subscribe to the highest principles of impartiality, fairness and integrity, always separating fact from inference in matters of political and other controversy and supported by eye-witnessed and attributable official statements and other sources to corroborate facts in particular stories.
5. “Political activities of media functionaries and the likelihood of charges of bias.”
Media organisations agree that individual owners, full-time staff members, part-time employees or other individuals contracted to write, produce or present articles, scripts, programmes, commentaries or other material intended for public dissemination and who (a) are publicly identified as candidates for election to Parliament; or, (b) hold office in a political party, are likely to be open to charges of bias. Accordingly, media organisations agree that such individuals will, in the performance of their functions, refrain from using their programmes for the purpose of promoting political objectives during the period beginning with the date of signature of the media Code of Conduct and its accompanying Guidelines, and ending the day after the results of elections will have been declared.
6. “Errors of Fact.”
The media undertake to deal responsibly with any complaints received in respect to reports published or broadcast and containing errors of fact, and where, in their opinion, these are justified to publish or broadcast appropriate corrections.
7. “Coverage on the day of Polling.”
Media organisations agree that no coverage of any activity by the political parties shall take place for a period to begin 24 (twenty-four) hours prior to the opening of Polling Stations on the day of Polling and continue to the close of Polling Stations.
8. “The Monitoring of Media Performance.”
Media organisations agree to the establishment of an Independent Elections Media Monitoring and Refereeing Panel for the overall purpose of being a point of reference for the submission of complaints about performance in the reporting and coverage of events during the election campaign.
Media organisations expressed appreciation for the efforts of the Guyana Elections Commission and other donors to identify and secure resources to support this work.
Media organisations however agreed that the terms of reference, functions and structure as well as the articulation of sanctions and other measures aimed at improving performance should be formulated by those media organisations which have signed the Media Code of Conduct and its accompanying Guidelines and stand ready to work collaboratively with the Guyana Elections Commission to achieve the objective of a functional Independent Elections Media Monitoring and Refereeing Panel.